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W. Eric Martin
Since Asmodee's acquisitions of Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games in 2014 (covered here and here), many people have joked about what Asmodee will acquire next.
Today we have that answer: Catan — more specifically, "worldwide English-language publishing, commercial and brand rights to Catan", with Asmodee acquiring those rights from U.S. publisher Mayfair Games. (Steve Horvath, CMO at Asmodee North America (ANA), has stated to me that this deal does not affect the license for Catan in any other language or with any other publisher.) Mayfair Games will continue to distribute Catan during an as-yet-publicly-undefined transitional period, after which Asmodee North America (ANA) will take over distribution of Catan within the U.S. while its partners will handle distribution outside of that country.
The English-language rights to Catan will be handled by the newly created Catan Studio, which Asmodee North America describes as an "independent, flexible and creative unit within the Asmodee Group [that] is dedicated to the development of a broad array of Catan content as well as growing, supporting, and nurturing the Catan community". To quote from the press release: "Led by Peter C. Fenlon, former CEO of Mayfair Games, this experienced and talented studio team will work closely with Catan GmbH and their partners to grow a vibrant global brand." (Catan GmbH, based in Germany, "specializes in the development and licensing of entertainment concepts", with Catan designer Klaus Teuber and his sons Guido and Benjamin Teuber all serving as Managing Directors.)
Why does the Asmodee Group want to acquire the rights to Catan? For anyone familiar with modern games, the answer should be obvious, but let's quote from the press release to put some numbers into the conversation:
The award-winning Catan
board game, invented in 1995 by Klaus Teuber, has sold more than 23 million copies (including expansions) and is translated into 35 languages. For 20 years, this game has been bringing modernity to the classic gameplays through developing innovative game experiences and social interactions. This long-lasting success enables Catan
to be recognized as an internationally established brand, with English-language today representing over 50% of the worldwide yearly sales.
In line with the recent acquisitions of Dobble
and the board game publishers Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games, this acquisition is a principal part of Asmodee's strategy of expanding its intellectual property portfolio and international presence to continuously offer the most innovative and leading games to the international gaming community and broaden access to games to the largest possible audience. Over the last two years, the Asmodee Group has accelerated its international growth, now representing 67% of the group sales (of which more than 30% in the US), versus 48% in 2013.
To get a better understanding of how this deal came about, I asked Peter Fenlon, now CEO of Catan Studio, about Catan's standing within Mayfair Games, specifically whether a Catan team operated independently within Mayfair or whether it was integrated with all other aspects of the company. "Catan was the best-selling brand in the Mayfair portfolio, but it didn't become especially distinct until 2007", he wrote. "It was then that I took over as CEO; we reorganized, Larry Roznai [currently Mayfair's President and COO], Bob Carty [Vice President of Sales and Marketing], and Coleman Charlton [game developer and editor] became empowered, and we refocused. Soon, we released the fourth English-language edition and began devoting dedicated resources and programs to Catan brand development. The brand gradually took off, and we remained focused on its success. Our Virginia-based game development team, our Florida-based sales and marketing staff, and our Illinois-based operations crew all came to understand Catan's special standing and value. Everyone helped build the brand as they labored to strengthen Mayfair. Nonetheless, Catan was never fully independent."
As for how Catan came to be part of the Asmodee Group and who approached whom, Fenlon wrote: "Many larger firms sought Catan, especially in recent years. All made multiple inquiries. Many friends sought us out. Still, we felt the brand needed careful and steady development, for we always felt Catan could become an enduring global brand. We believed that it would ultimately become the world's preeminent analog game brand. Once we focused on Catan, that became even more evident. It also became clear that a traditional toy company or brand development house, despite great resources, might not understand Catan's special value. They might not act with the patience and care necessary to build and nurture Catan's great community. Nor would they understand the need to treat it as a 'premium brand', not just a mass market fad."
He continued: "Stéphane Carville, Asmodee's CEO, understood these challenges. He approached us in 2014, learned what we wanted, and came back to us last spring  with a very creative and serious offer. His mission to build the world's strongest 'game company' — as opposed to toy company — excited us. With an opening from our mutual friend, Luc Mertens, Stéphane flew to Charlottesville, Virginia on short notice in late spring 2015. There, he sold Coleman Charlton (Mayfair's Product Director) and I on his vision. His vision complemented and underpinned ours. Soon, our other partners at Mayfair (Larry, Bob et al) and Catan GmbH bought into the proposal."
Many Mayfair employees will transition into new positions at Catan Studio: Charlton will become Catan Studio's Managing Editor, Mayfair Art Director Morgan Dontanville will be Catan Studio's Chief Creative Officer, former Catan brand manager Ron Magin is now Chief Operating Officer for the Catan Studio, and Bob Carty will serve as special marketing and merchandise counsel.
In a separate press release, Mayfair Games (MGI) noted that Larry Roznai will remain as President while also assuming the CEO position held by Fenlon, while Alex Yeager will become Vice President of Acquisition and Development to handle the former responsibilities of Charlton. In addition to distributing Catan during its transition to ANA, Mayfair Games will continue to promote "the Catan brand including but not limited to the continued coordination of the 2016 Catan tournament schedule, Catan Day 2016 and the 2016 Catan World Championship". To add more details from the Mayfair press release:
MGI continues to retain a controlling interest in Lookout GmbH and Mayfair GmbH, providing a wide range of games worldwide, and distribution to the European marketplace. These efforts will be expanded with a new focus on multi-language and international products.
MGI is also pleased to announce the acquisition of several Martin Wallace
games as permanent additions to the Mayfair game library. Those titles include Steam
, Test of Fire
and Clash of Wills
More from Fenlon about why Catan is leaving Mayfair Games: "Asmodee could never have sold us on the idea of joining Catan to their portfolio if we didn't believe that: (1) they were a content-driven company determined to create and support truly great games; (2) they understood and supported the diverse and growing game community; (3) they understood that event- and story-based marketing need not be cynical, and in fact should offer its own substantive entertainment value; (4) they embraced all levels of the game community and game trade as game consumers; (5) they understood that service-oriented brick-and-mortar retailers had a special value as forums, community centers, etc.; and (6) that each game, each line, each brand offered unique value. This balanced perspective, this diverse perspective, this commitment to great content is a very healthy philosophy. It will help us build and support a healthier and happier game community — and thus market."
As for what will change with Catan as a result of this deal, Fenlon stressed that people will continue to see all that they've seen in the past, but in all likelihood more people will be seeing it: "The Asmodee Group provides Catan with a host of additional resources. In addition to the capital necessary to carefully and deliberately grow the Catan content portfolio and reach new markets in a steady, deliberate, and fair fashion, Asmodee offers Catan access to a strong, diverse, and global operations program and a very talented international team. While we will operate as an independent studio, we'll be able to tap into a lot of new perspectives, thoughtful experiences, and diverse perspectives. Most importantly, we'll be part of a group that understands that we need to think globally and act locally." (As mentioned above, Asmodee North America will take over distribution of Catan at some point. Mayfair Games currently has an exclusive distribution deal with Alliance Game Distributors. I asked whether distribution will expand to ANA's five authorized U.S. distributors, as detailed in this BGG News post, and Horvath said that no distribution details are being made public during the transition period.)
As for the look of the game itself, Mayfair Games has historically done its own thing regarding the Catan games, whereas many of the other licensees have adopted the look and design of the KOSMOS edition, but with the local language replacing the German text. Will this practice continue with the formation of Catan Studio? Wrote Fenlon: "First, please understand that, especially in recent years, Catan GmbH, Mayfair, and Kosmos have worked as a team to develop the Catan brand and its products. Mayfair and Kosmos varied components and presentation to suit their markets. As we developed the latest 'global' edition of Catan — the fifth English-language edition — we worked to improve and synergize the brand. This team approach will continue and no doubt improve as we move forward. All partners within the Catan family should participate more, not less. Like the whole Catan team, Catan Studios' approach to product creation, manufacturing, etc. will remain rooted in the idea that we won't make any change unless it is a substantive improvement. We will also remain committed to the fact that Catan is a values-based brand. Those values — curiosity, cooperation through trade, indirect competition, creative building, and fun — are anything but destructive. We'll never manufacture in a way that harms our environment or the people that labor within it." (Mayfair Games currently manufactures its titles within the U.S.)
Fenlon added: "Catan Studio carries Mayfair's entire mandate, especially content, into the Asmodee Group. In fact, our mandate grows. We'll be working with Catan GmbH, our fellow Catan licensees like Kosmos and USM, to carefully create a host of great new game, merchandise, and story programs. We'll continue to support the Catan World Championship, other tournaments, the Big Game, and other event-based programs that are as much fun products as they are entertaining marketing. There will be new games, scenarios, variants, and special editions, but we'll continue to take great care to avoid diluting the Catan experience. Every Catan game, every product, every event should be substantively fun and worthy."
W. Eric Martin
• Nicole at The Daily Worker Placement interviewed BGG's Scott Alden in mid-December 2015 about the site's redesign, including lots of images of the new look in the article and mentioning that an open beta test will likely be ready in January 2016.
• And now for a second BGG-related post: BGG has used Livestream in the past (but will not in the future) for its livestream game demonstrations from Gen Con and Spiel, and since Livestream has reported being hacked, I'd suggest that you take whatever action is needed should you be one of those who uses the same password on multiple sites.
• Three former CIA employees play Gale Force Nine's Homeland: The Game and report on the experience on Slate: "We may have nearly two decades of intelligence experience among us — including time spent working on counterterrorism issues both in the field and back at Langley — but we spent more than an hour trying to make heads or tails of the game's rules and components. There are six different types of playing cards to master, two different figurines, four different tokens that added up to...something. The cards use terminology we used in our former careers — assets, threat analysis, official reprimands — but they meant different things here than in real life."
• The Onion's A.V. Club polled readers about 2015's best and worst movie, book, television show, etc., and the only board game to place on the list of games was Pandemic Legacy.
• This link might be a tad late for you now, but The New York Times highlighted eight gifts for family game night, including Dominion, Ascension, Qwirkle (spelled wrong, as it often is), Sushi Go!, and Mary Flanagan's Monarch, with Flanagan being the expert whose game suggestions are used in the article.
• As a publicity stunt, the creators of Cards Against Humanity are polling the 150,000 supporters of its Eight Sensible Gifts for Hanukkah to see whether it should cut up a Picasso print into 150,000 pieces (thereby allowing each supporters to own a piece of a Picasso) or whether it should donate the print to the Art Institute of Chicago. Gabriel Roth responds on Slate by yawning and giving a "Is that all you got?" in response:
The idea, I guess, is that some people will be scandalized by the idea of "an original 1962 Picasso" being destroyed ("This is an outrage! Donate it to the Art Institute," reads one of the ballot options), just as some people are scandalized by the idea of randomly combining phrases like "date rape" and "a midget shitting into a bucket" in a party game, while other people — people who find themselves unable to provoke a more complicated reaction in their fellow humans than shock and offense but who still need to be reassured that they exist, that they're not disembodied wraiths passing unnoticed across the surface of the world — will view that potential outrage as an opportunity for a self-soothing act of assertive hostility.
But unlike a racist card game, this chop-up-a-Picasso stunt isn't worth getting upset about. Tête de Faune is "an original 1962 Picasso" print — one of a run of 50 signed lino-cuts. The Art Institute of Chicago would stick it in the basement and barely send you a thank-you note.
If you want to annoy people by destroying a work of art, don't pick one of a set of 50 prints from the waning years of the most prolific artist of all time. Cut up the Demoiselles d'Avignon or something! Go big or go home!
Whether a publicity stunt can be judged successful is determined by how much publicity it receives, and I realize that I'm contributing to that tally. In its own article on the stunt, The Chicago Tribune notes that in 1994 the pop band The KLF burned nearly one million pounds in cash, royalties for its work, as part of an art project. (Wikipedia has details on the project and resulting film, Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid.)
W. Eric Martin
The North American branch of Asmodee announced major changes to its business model that will take place on January 1 and April 1, 2016 — a change of name to Asmodee North America, a reduction in the number of U.S. distributors carrying its products, the elimination of online game sales of Asmodee products by brick-and-mortar stores, and a reduction in the number of online retailers of its products. (For more details on these announcements, head to this Dec. 19, 2015 BGG News post.)
Now Asmodee has issued a follow-up press release to clarify what was previously announced, and I present that release in its entirety:
To Whom It May Concern,
Related to our recently announced wholesale terms and policy changes, some questions have been raised by stakeholders such as yourself. On behalf of Asmodee North America, we're happy to provide you some additional context to those changes and clarify several areas.
It is important to underscore that, above all, Asmodee and its publishers are dedicated to creating and publishing great games, and to expand the audience that enjoy these experiences. Our vision is one of mutual success of each participant: publisher, distributor, retailers (of every channel), and, most importantly, the game consumer. We believe our new business terms and policy changes are a significant step in achieving such mutual success.
Why are you making these sudden changes?
While they may appear to be sudden, these policies have been under development for a very long time, and considered carefully. They are intended to allow for success in the channels of sale where our products are represented: success that is not attained at the expense of other channels that provide crucial value to the overall health of the industry and our business.
To that end, we have decided to cleanly define and authorize the channels of sale in which our business partners (distributors and retailers) operate, so that we may a) ensure that consumers receive a quality experience in acquiring our games, and b) ensure that the risk, value, and investment of every channel, relative to others, can be successful.
We believe the current ecosystem of specialty retail and online retail is important to the health and growth of the gaming hobby. Without taking corrective action, we believe this ecosystem would be in jeopardy, which ultimately would affect the quality of game development and the investment in great consumer experiences.
Did you invent this approach?
The practice of product originators authorizing outlets and defining expected behavior in its product distribution chain is well established in many industries and common in high-end and niche product categories.
I don't frequent local game retailers, why are they important?
We believe that business partners whom provide services and investments that we value, relative to others who do not, should receive proportional value from us so that they may succeed in such activities. In comparison to, for example, the online channel of sales, specialty retailers make investments in areas we consider critical to the health and growth of the gaming hobby, such as in-store gaming events, demonstrations, tournaments, and other organized play facilitation. These outlets are a crucial part of an ecosystem that retains and generates players. In turn, this allows publishers to engage and invest in game development. As such, these services are of value to all game consumers, even consumers whom do not personally participate or take advantage of local specialty retailers.
In the future, will I be able to find products from Asmodee North America (i.e. products from Asmodee Editions, Fantasy Flight Games, or Days of Wonder) online?
We are keenly aware and we understand that not all consumers have access to, or that some prefer not to take advantage of, specialty retail game stores. Online shopping is a modern and convenient method of shopping, and Asmodee is committed to keeping this channel a viable and high-quality method of product delivery to consumers.
We intend to work with a number of exceptional authorized online dealers. We are confident that consumers will easily be able to find and acquire our products from a variety of online outlets.
Some brick-and-mortar specialty retailers also sell online, how will this affect them?
We recognize that these new policies come with implications for some retailers. One such change will be that authorized specialty retailers will agree not to sell Asmodee North America products online. That said, we hope the end result, i.e. enabling us to support them relative to other defined channels, will be a significant net improvement for specialty retailers overall.
Will Asmodee North America change any consumer engagement practices of publishers, such as the FFG World Championships, AsmoPlay, Gen Con booth and events, publisher websites, etc?
No, consumer engagement from publishers is expected to continue as has been done in the past, and all the above are expected to continue (in fact, we will be investing to make these efforts even greater). Our publishers represent different brands, gaming styles, and audiences, we have no interest in mixing them or forcing them into a single brand, message, or culture.
How will this affect mass market outlets, such a Amazon, Target, or Barnes and Noble?
We consider the mass/broad market to be its own unique channel of sale, one we want to be successful in its own right alongside our other successful channels of sale.
Many specialty retailers have in-store loyalty or volume discounts, and many online dealers discount their product. In the new policies taking effect on April 1st, 2016, will you institute or impose official price floors or "minimum advertised price" policies on your authorized retailers?
Change is never easy, rarely popular, and we understand that some will dismiss such corporate change as cynical and self-serving. We believe to be making a change that will not only be positive for us, but will be positive for our business partners, for player growth, and for future development of gaming product with increasing quality and imagination.
Best Wishes and Happy Holidays,
Asmodee North America
Mon Dec 21, 2015 10:33 pm
W. Eric Martin
• On Boing Boing, John E. Williamson showers love and affection on The Battle at Kemble's Cascade:
Everything in the box is made with a love for classic games and it shows, from the manual, to the player cards, to the fake wear of the box, to the variety of enemies. Kemble's Cascade was my surprise board game discovery of the summer. If you die, you can just insert another quarter and play some more.
• In October 2015, The Economist noted that tabletop games "are booming in the video-game age", focusing on the then-upcoming Spiel 2015 for its news hook:
Some of the games at Spiel will be aimed at children, but grown-ups are doing most of the buying. There is something for every taste, from Fluxx
, a lighthearted card game whose rules change with every card played, to Power Grid
, a fiendishly tricky business game featuring aspiring electricity tycoons, to all-day chin-scratchers such as Twilight Imperium
, a game of galactic civilisation-building.
• Seth Rosenthal on SB Nation recounts a tale from the 2014 Settlers of Catan World Championship, covers his effort to earn a spot in the 2015 event, and details the Catan tournament that took place at Gen Con 2015.
• On Metro, George Lindsay-Watson offers an ill-thought-out list of "11 of the best board games to make into drinking games", which includes this bit of nonsense that makes it clear that G.L.W. has played few, if any, of the games in question:
Ticket to Ride
As you hop aboard and try to lay your track across the country or continent, take a drink for every carriage you get on the board. Also drink for every route point you earn, although if these hit double digits it may be best to divide by two, old chap.
This would kill you.
• Using a photograph of Marcel Duchamp's hand-carved chess set from 1917-1918, Scott Kildall and Bryan Cera recreated the pieces, then released 3D files of them in April 2014 on Thingiverse under the name "Readymake: Duchamp Chess Set" — "readymake" being a play off of Duchamp's "readymade" — so that anyone could recreate the set for themselves.
In September 2014, however, the estate of Duchamp sent Kildall and Cera a cease-and-desist letter, despite the chess set being nearly a century old, and therefore not covered by copyright in either the United States or France. Even so, in 2015 Kildall and Cera decided to remove "Readymake" from public availability, instead releasing "Chess with Mustaches", which is the same Duchamp design with a mustache on each piece. (Wink wink.)
Also not available on Thingiverse: Nude playing against Duchamp
W. Eric Martin
On Dec. 17, 2015, the North American branch of Asmodee announced several changes in its structure and business model, starting with the formation of the umbrella organization Asmodee North America. As of January 1, 2016, all titles from Fantasy Flight Games (FFG), Days of Wonder (DoW), and Asmodee Publishing will be marketed and sold by Asmodee North America (ANA), which will be located in Roseville, Minnesota, home of Fantasy Flight Games.
Perhaps not coincidentally, at that time FFG CEO Christian Petersen will become CEO of Asmodee North America. A press release from ANA states that this change in the overarching business structure "will have no effect" on the titles being produced by FFG, DoW, and Asmodee Publishing, a claim that mirrors those made when Asmodee bought Days of Wonder in August 2014 and acquired Fantasy Flight Games in November 2014.
Even larger changes are taking place behind the scenes, with ANA stating that as of January 1, 2016, it will authorize only five distributors in the U.S. — ACD Distribution, Alliance Game Distributors, GTS Distribution, PHD Games, and Southern Hobby Supply — for resale of its products to retailers within the country. This new distribution policy will prevent some current distributors of FFG and Asmodee titles from doing so in the future; at the same time, Days of Wonder product will no longer exclusively be available through Alliance Game Distributors, a situation that's existed since July 1, 2008. Retailers can also purchase product directly from ANA.
What's more, retailers that want to continue carrying and selling titles from ANA need to become authorized as an "Asmodee Specialty Retailer" by April 1, 2016 — and to do that they need to agree to the terms of its Asmodee North America Specialty Retail Policy (PDF).
The existence of a retail policy isn't surprising. Businesses use these to ensure that the products that they deliver to distributors aren't tampered with or represented in ways not intended by the originating business, that buyers agree to specific payment terms, and so on. What is surprising is this all-caps section of the Specialty Retail Policy (SRP):
IV. Retailer's Conduct
A. Channel of Sale
RETAILER MUST NOT SELL OR TRANSFER ANY ANA PRODUCT PURCHASED HEREUNDER IN ANY MANNER OTHER THAN THROUGH FACE-TO-FACE COMMERCIAL RESALE EXCHANGE WITH END-USERS IN RETAILER'S PHYSICAL RETAIL LOCATION(S) OR AT A PHYSICAL EXTENSION OF THE RETAILER'S RETAIL LOCATION AT A CONSUMER SHOW/CONVENTION. ALL OTHER CHANNELS AND METHODS OF SALE FOR ANA PRODUCT IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO SUB-DISTRIBUTION, SALES OVER THE INTERNET, AND MAIL ORDER.
FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF DOUBT, ANY TRANSFER OR SALE OF ANA PRODUCTS TO SUBSIDIARIES OR AFFILIATE COMPANIES CONTROLLED, OR PARTIALLY CONTROLLED, BY RETAILER OR ANY OF RETAILERS' OWNERS AND/OR SHAREHOLDERS, ARE PROHIBITED HEREUNDER.
The first paragraph bans all online sales of ANA titles, a drastic change given that online game sales represent — well, it's actually not clear what percentage of the market they represent, which means that this change is drastic or not only depending on the buyers with whom you speak. (More on this later.)
This prohibition on online sales can even outlast the contract itself, as noted in the section on "Effects of Termination":
3. All ANA Products purchased hereunder shall remain subject to Section IV hereof, which shall survive the termination of the Retailer's active Specialty Retailer Account status until such ANA Product is sold.
4. Except for Section VII.B.3, upon termination, this Specialty Retailer Policy is no longer binding on Retailer or ANA.
The second "Channel of Sale" paragraph is meant to address the issue of distributors that act as retailers — that is, distributors that purchase goods from Asmodee, then transfer them at little or no cost to a retailer owned in whole or in part by the distributor, then resold to end-users. Goods handled in this way can be sold profitably by distributor-retailers at discounted prices that actual retailers cannot possibly match.
One way that ANA will police this policy is hinted at in another section of the SRP: "Retailer understands that ANA Distributors must provide ANA with frequent detailed reports outlining Retailer's ANA Product purchases from the ANA Distributor." In other words, ANA will know which distributors sold which products to which buyers.
In a Q&A-style press release meant to clarify the above policy, ANA wrote the following:
Q: I sell some Asmodee North America products in my store, and some on my website (or through another online marketplace). As an Asmodee Specialty Retailer, will I be able to continue to do all of this?
A: No, as a Specialty Retailer, you are limited to the channel of sale involving resale of Asmodee North America products to end-users only, by transaction in your physical retail stores only.
Q: I want to sell products from Asmodee North America online, how do I do this?
A: We will be very selective as to which online merchants will be authorized to sell our products. To qualify as an online merchant, you will need to contribute either significant scale, unique service, or other exceptional differentiation. Most online sales activities, including sales through third party websites, will not be authorized.
Q: I sub-distribute products to other businesses, what do I do?
A: Asmodee North America will not authorize sub-distribution of our products, unless by rare and unique exception.
What will happen to retailers that violate the SRP?
A: We reserve the right to evaluate each violation on a case-by-case basis, and we will make a decision on how to respond based on severity, intent, scale, repeat behavior, and other factors. Generally speaking, a Specialty Retail account who knowingly violates the Specialty Retail Policy will be deactivated and therefore no longer have access to products from Asmodee North America.
I sent many questions about the ANA SRP to FFG's VP of Marketing Aaron Elliot: What constitutes an online merchant of "significant scale, unique service, or other exceptional differentiation"? Will retailers such as Amazon, Target, and Barnes & Noble be allowed to sell ANA product online in 2016? What about online retailers such as Funagain and CoolStuffInc? What negative effects does ANA perceive as being caused by online sales of its products? What changes does ANA hope to effect with this new sales policy? What percentage of sales comes from online outlets versus physical retail stores?
Elliot initially stated that Christian Petersen would answer these questions, but noted that all of FFG was taking the afternoon off to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens — no surprise there given how invested FFG is in the Star Wars brand! However, Elliott later sent the following note: "After carefully considering your questions, along with many of the questions we've seen from others, we have decided to issue a statement on Monday [Dec. 21, 2015] to clarify a few things from the initial release."
Thus, we'll have to wait for further clarification of who will be affected by the SRP and what ANA hopes to achieve by adopting this policy, but that hasn't stopped plenty of people from speculating on these topics, as evidenced by this BGG thread started by game retailer Rockin B' Games.
The game industry has gone down a similar road before in 2007 when Mayfair Games announced that it would allow retailers to discount its titles by no more than 20% from the MSRP. Many on BGG stated that this policy would lead to the demise of Mayfair, and I wrote a column on Boardgame News — the site I ran at the time — explaining why such claims were nonsense. (I'll republish this column in the near future since these types of arguments are already being made about Asmodee, and they're still equally ridiculous.)
The biggest issue to keep in mind is that despite BGG having a huge readership and user base, that base in no way represents the game market at large. Days of Wonder, for example, claims to have sold more than three million Ticket to Ride games, and while the publisher doesn't state whether that number relates to sales of the base game, all of the standalone games, or every Ticket to Ride-branded product, a glance through the BGG database shows that no more than 175,000 TtR items of any type are listed as owned by BGG users. Not every BGG user uses the collection function, of course, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that the hardcore, price-conscious BGG user base is a tiny fraction of Days of Wonder's entire sales base.
As Mayfair did nearly a decade ago, Asmodee is willing to bet that it will more than make up the difference of lost sales to price-conscious gamers through the support of physical game stores that will have more of an incentive to market and promote titles from ANA. At least that's my takeaway from the announcements; ideally we'll see in a few days how closely they match ANA's stated reasons for the policy change...
W. Eric Martin
Gen Con 2015 was the largest game convention yet in Indianapolis, Indiana — 61,000+ unique attendees, 400+ exhibitors, and 14,000+ events — but that growth came at a cost, with multiple reports of first-time exhibitors being unable to reserve a booth for 2016 due to a lack of space in the exhibitor hall.
Why couldn't those exhibitors retain the same spaces they occupied at Gen Con 2015? Partly because Gen Con offers discounted space for first-timers in its "Entrepreneur's Alley", and since those exhibitors wouldn't be first-timers in 2016, they weren't eligible to be in "Entrepreneur's Alley". What's more, both those exhibitors and others who were exhibiting at Gen Con for only the first or second time had no seniority in Gen Con's booth-reservation system, which meant that they were shut out during the show when everyone else was reserving space for Gen Con 2016.
Now Gen Con has announced that for 2016 it will expand its events space into Lucas Oil Stadium, a multipurpose stadium on the block adjacent to the Indiana Convention Center where Gen Con takes place. Here's an excerpt from the press release:
As part of this expansion, Gen Con will move several large events into the stadium's exhibition space, including the wildly popular True Dungeon events.
"Expansion into Lucas Oil Stadium is another exciting step forward for Gen Con," said Adrian Swartout, Gen Con CEO/Owner. "Gen Con has grown to host nearly 200,000 turnstile attendees, and it is evident that we have to accelerate our growth plans to meet attendee, exhibitor, and event organizer demand. Expansion into Lucas Oil Stadium allows Gen Con to keep offering more gaming, exhibition, and entertainment options each year."
A large-scale, life-size gaming experience, True Dungeon creates an immersive environment where players can solve puzzles and battle giant monsters. Attendees will have easy access to True Dungeon events through a corridor that directly connects the Indiana Convention Center to Lucas Oil Stadium. True Dungeon's 2016 event will feature an expedition through lava caverns and a mission across an underground city. Attendees can learn more here.
A separate announcement on the True Dungeon website added this plus for its new location:
True Dungeon is moving to a state-of-the-art exhibit hall inside Lucas Oil Stadium where we can take advantage of a massive dividing wall to completely isolate the darker adventure area from the brighter lit (and more noisy) coaching area. The better control of light and sound "pollution" will greatly aid us in providing a better lit Coaching Room experience while keeping the adventure areas more dramatically lit.
Gen Con notes that in the coming months it will announce other events to be hosted in Lucas Oil Stadium. As for what will happen with the recovered space in the Convention Center, that will be revealed at a later date...
W. Eric Martin
• Each year since 2003, Steve Jackson Games has released a "Report to the Stakeholders", and these reports always make for fascinating reading as they're one of the few windows offered into the financial doings of a decent-sized U.S. game publisher. In 2014, for example, SJG CEO Phil Reed reports $8.5 million in gross income, with "Zombie Dice alone account[ing] for 7.4% of our distribution sales for the year" and placing third in its list of products sold behind Munchkin Deluxe and Munchkin. (In past reports, sales of Munchkin and the many Munchkin spin-offs and accessories have accounted for three-quarters of SJG's sales, but a percentage for 2014 isn't given in this report.)
As for new projects coming from SJG in 2016, Reed writes, "we're already hard at work on games that will ship in mid-2016. The first quarter projects are completed and at print, and we're planning announcements for new Munchkin games, something new for Ogre, and the new edition of Car Wars" — that is, Car Wars Sixth Edition, with 2016 being the 35th anniversary of the game.
• On Games Precipice as part of its series on "early game structures", Alex Harkey writes about decisions, ranking Catan, Carcassonne, 7 Wonders and Hanabi on four "characteristics that can lead to interesting decisions": transparency, energy, metamorphosis, and perspective.
• In its game guide for the holiday season, Gear Patrol recommends "seven board games released in the last five years that have gotten great reviews, but aren't as financially successful as the old classics", which somewhat amusing given that all of the games released in the last five years, great reviews or not, aren't as financially successful as the old classics. Still, kudos to GP for spotlighting modern games on its site.
• On his blog, designer Bruno Faidutti objects to the use of the word "test" when others write about games that he's designed or co-designed, crediting his fellow designer Bruno Cathala with the following argument: "The games we publish work as we have tested them ourselves. Players can enjoy them or not, but it's not up to them to test them." In more detail:
If we are indeed "game authors", and if a game is a cultural creation (we also say in French "œuvre de l'esprit", which is untranslatable because it's based on the ambiguity of the meaning of "esprit", which means both "spirit" and "brain"), then our games must be reviewed and not tested. The world "test" is disparaging for designers but also, and more importantly, for the games themselves, which are considered as mere technical items.
• For his part, designer/developer Seth Jaffee objects to people claiming that they "designed a game last week", stating that they did no such thing. An excerpt:
People who say things like that are conflating "designing a game" with "conceiving a game". If you tell me you had a game idea last week, fine. If you tell me you started designing a game last week, we're good. If you tell me you wrote a preliminary rule set for a game last week, I'm with you. But when you talk about designing a game (in the past tense), it becomes much too easy to confuse "I started designing a game" with "I finished designing a game, and anyone who knows anything about designing things will tell you that those two are very, very different.
W. Eric Martin
• On League of Gamemakers, designer/publisher Christian Strain gives examples of how to design "board games efficiently for cost". An excerpt:
Every punchboard component for every game is different. That means that every time a game is printed, at least one new die-cut tool is made for the punchboard components. The trick here is to keep it to only one die-cut.
When I was getting Evil Intent
printed, I didn't realize this. I created two different punchboard designs: one for money, and the other for markers. If I had taken the two different components and combined them on one design, then I would have only paid for one die-cut instead of two.
I thankfully learned this lesson when I printed Asking for Trobils
, making all four punchboards the same cut.
When I open a game that contains inefficiently produced punchboards as described above, I can't help but view the producer as an amateur and become suspicious of the game in question.
• In a 2,300-year-old tomb in China, "archaeologists found a 14-face die made of animal tooth, 21 rectangular game pieces with numbers painted on them, and a broken tile which was once part of a game board", according to Owen Jarus on Live Science. The article notes that researchers suspect the pieces are from a game titled "bo" or "liubo" that hasn't been played in more than 1,500 years.
• Following the Carcassonne tournament at Spiel 2015, Hans im Glück donated €6,000 — fifty cents per point scored, rounded up to the nearest thousand — to the University of Duisburg-Essen for projects intended to help fund creative integration projects for refugees, such as language acquisition programs.
• Speaking of Spiel 2015, NPR ran a short story on the convention on its Morning Edition program in Oct. 2015, with Tiffany Ralph, a.k.a. TheOneTAR (and now Tiffany Caires following a recent marriage), providing a few details as to why gamers were headed to Essen, Germany.
• Designer Mark Major makes a case for dumping the terms "Euro" and "Ameritrash" in favor of objective and descriptive terms that better describe the elements within a game — although his descriptions focus almost entirely on the mechanisms of gameplay, which is reductionism of another sort.
W. Eric Martin
• Designer Kelsey Domeny explains why gamers should stop hating on Monopoly:
I think we gamers and game designers can jump too quickly to scoffing at mainstream games. But we owe a lot to them. Monopoly really is a bridge from the world of no games to the world of hobby games. If we are to grow our industry, we must be willing to sit down with people who love Monopoly and enjoy a game of Monopoly with them. When we start where they are comfortable and show them we can have fun on their turf, they will be more likely to try our "gateway games" and enter into the world of clever design and cool mechanics.
Don't dismiss people because of what they play; invite them to your table because they do play. Perhaps by playing together you can find games that you all enjoy.
• Designer Nat Levan goes through the five stages of grief after receiving feedback — and a suggested list of extensive changes — from a prospective publisher:
My first reaction was denial. They were completely wrong. I've been working on this for a year, and they've only played it for a few months. Never mind the fact that since there's a whole team playing, they've probably put in almost as much play time as I have, if not more.
• Alex Harkey at Games Precipice catalogs "early game structures" — resources, turn order, and player decisions — to explore positive and negative aspects of each, while giving examples of games that demonstrate these elements.
• When an article on board games opens with this phrase — "In a 1967 lecture, Michel Foucault stated:" — you can be forgiven for wondering whether you're being pranked, but if you're familiar with the Analog Game Studies blog, you probably expect such things by now.
In any case, Devin Wilson's article "The Eurogame as Heterotopia" makes a case for there being as much theme present in a Eurogame design as you care to discover, with such a design simultaneously being a tool through which you can see yourself, should you care to look. A long excerpt:
Existing commentary on eurogames is most often written by enthusiasts and rarely by scholars, though academic interest seems to be on the rise. What we will see is that, though all can agree that thematic abstraction is a hallmark of eurogames, there is dissent among both enthusiasts and scholars about what to do in the face of that abstraction.
In the only extant monograph on the genre so far, Stewart Woods provides a history of eurogames that concludes that their thematic abstraction — while distinctive — is not of great interest.2 This postulation of eurogames' effective lack of theme is demonstrably aligned with the widespread enthusiast perspective that theme is often a negligible quality of games (even outside of wholly abstract games like Blokus
). For example, popular board game reviewer Tom Vasel said of the eurogame Vasco da Gama
, "Don't come into this looking for any kind of theme." But — far more so than with many eurogames — Vasco da Gama
is very plainly about something real: its namesake is a particular historical figure and the gameplay embodies this person's biography in non-trivial ways. Yet Vasel forbids us from looking for theme in this game, insisting that there is nothing there.
Conversely, Will Robinson describes Vasco da Gama
in far more situated terms, noting that the game's abstraction erases the violence of the game's thematic referent. Robinson looks at the virtuality of the game and subsequently directs his attention to the reality of the history depicted. He writes:
"Taking violent histories and turning them into resource management/worker-placement games for family audiences creates an ideological fairy tale. Vasco da Gama
reinforces a clean and unproblematic interpretation of the Portuguese empire with each play."
Indeed, the question of "what is being abstracted out" is vital, particularly when the theme is so specifically historical and that history's violence undermines the supposedly non-violent interactions that characterize the genre. Ultimately, in Robinson's critique of Vasco da Gama
, it's tempting to liken it to a Foucauldian mirror test at which Vasel fails by not seeing the reality of Vasco da Gama's real actions via Vasco da Gama
Wilson goes on to discuss The Castles of Burgundy from his viewpoint as an "ethical vegan":
Given Castles of Burgundy
's abstraction (which is typical of the eurogame genre), these animals can be interpreted as companions, wards, ornaments, or consumable resources. Given my perspective, I see them as more like wards or perhaps companions. The game — like much great art, and like Settlers of Catan
as described earlier — can function as a mirror: it shows me who I am in reality through the materiality of its unreality. In my case, I can clearly (and somewhat unexpectedly) see my real vegan convictions in the unreality of the game and its abstract and polysemic components.
My view of Castles of Burgundy
, like Robinson's view of Vasco da Gama
, is grounded in social critique. But the situation I find myself in when facing the abstraction of Castles of Burgundy
allows me to fill in gaps and virtually "re-theme" the game — without any physical modifications or concrete house rules — according to my politics.
W. Eric Martin
• Owen Duffy has been writing about board games for sometime on The Guardian, and one of his most recent articles covers the happenings at Spiel 2015 for a mainstream audience:
For over three decades, the exhibition, known to attendees as Spiel, or simply as "Essen", after its host city, has brought tabletop game designers, publishers and legions of fans together to buy, sell, socialise and play. It's where the biggest companies in the business show off their latest releases, up-and-coming creators chase their big break and tens of thousands of gamers clamour to play the hottest new titles before they hit shop shelves.
• Duffy also pops up on VICE with "A Guide to the Groundbreaking Board Games You Should Be Playing Right Now", which uses the "Hey, comics aren't for kids anymore!" article model of the mid-1980s when Maus and The Dark Knight Returns were showing up in places like Rolling Stone.
• Stuck for inspiration for a game design? The League of Gamemakers invites you to "steal this game idea", with ten offerings that mostly resemble grab bags of game mechanisms instead of settings, although it's neat to see commenters jump in with ideas of their own. To add one of my own, imagine homeowners in a cul-de-sac competing to dress their residences with the most impressive light displays possible during the holiday season.
• On Slate, Steve Krause explains "The Fun of Betraying Your Friends", highlighting how Betrayal at House on the Hill introduced him to both modern games and modern gamers:
[T]hat night at Jerry's house changed my perception of board games forever. A once childish and pat pastime transformed into a complex and nuanced subculture where thinking is valued and where creativity thrives...
I left the party that night not only with a brand new group of friends, but infatuated with the awesome power of board games. I told everyone I knew about that night with the dragon.
A decade later, and I'm still gaming. My collection grows every month, and I try to play games several times a week with as many people as I can. They've become more than just an excuse to get together, although my relationships have only strengthened through playing. Board games, the best of them, create experiences, and some of the best nights I've ever spent were sitting around a table with my friends and some cardboard.
• Designer Daniel Solis explains how a game loss by all in a non-cooperative game doesn't feel like a loss and why that might not be desirable:
The tricky thing is that each player individually accumulates their own points so even if the "group loss" state occurs, if I have the most points, the game can't stop me from feeling like I won. This brought up a brief and very useful discussion about the essential social contracts surrounding games when players agree to certain game-states as being desirable and worth pursuing.
• Selections are underway for the fourth edition of the Dau Barcelona Awards, which are organized by the Institut de Cultura of Barcelona in Spain under the assumption that "gaming is a cultural activity and a first-order social and family element". Despite "Barcelona" being in the title, the awards are open to all game designers — or "authors" in their term. Three awards will be given: Best Author of 2015, Best New Author of 2015, and a Special Award to a lifetime of games, with this latter prize being awarded by the City Council of Barcelona.
How does one participate in the Dau Barcelona Awards? The press release notes that "authors will receive, from the 10th of November, a message from Dau Barcelona Awards through the BoardGameGeek messages system to invite them to participate in the votes". I spoke with Oriol Comas i Coma, Commissioner of the Dau Barcelona Games Festival at Spiel 2015, and he explained that they use the BGG database to contact authors due to its reach in the games industry and its use by authors themselves to market their games and provide support to players.
Oriol also mentioned that they're interested in creating better tools to extract data about game authors, such as their representative website or a connection between their username and game designer page, from the BGG database, and if you think this sounds like a project for you, be sure to get in touch with them.
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